If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking 1-2x a week, and it's better late than never! Before reading any of the "reviews", you should read the intro, the FAQ, the MOVIES I HAVE ALREADY SEEN list, and if you want, the glossary of genre terms and "What is Horror?", which explains some of the "that's not horror!" entries. And to keep things clean, all off topic posts are re-dated to be in JANUARY 2007 (which was before I began doing this little project) once they have 'expired' (i.e. are 10 days old).

Due to many people commenting "I have to see this movie!" after a review, I have decided to add Amazon links within the reviews (they are located at the bottom), as well as a few links to the Horror Movie A Day Store around the page, hopefully non-obstructively. Amazon will also automatically link things they find relevant, so there might be a few random links in a review as well. If they become annoying, I'll remove the functionality. Right now I'm just kind of amused what they come up with (for example, they highlighted 'a horror movie' in the middle of one review and it links to, of all things, the 50 Chilling Movies Budget Pack!!!).

Last but not least, some reviews contain spoilers (NOTE - With a few exceptions, anything written on the back of the DVD or that occurs less than halfway through the movie I do NOT consider a spoiler). I will be adding 'spoiler alerts' for these reviews as I go through and re-do the older reviews (longtime readers may notice that there is now a 'show more' which cleaned up the main page, as well as listing the source of the movie I watched, i.e. Theaters, DVD, TV) to reflect the new format. This is time consuming, so bear with me.

Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.


Scream (2022)

JANUARY 11, 2022


Despite, you know, everything, Scream (aka Scream 5, goddamn them for adding confusion!) is projected to make around 40 million dollars this weekend, which means it will outgross 2011's Scream 4's entire take in three days. One can attribute this revived enthusiasm to a variety of things: the new (and very diverse, correcting one of the few flaws of the original) cast bringing in a different set of fans, the polarizing Halloween Kills leaving slasher junkies wanting something a little more traditional, the fact that Scream 4 has found a bigger fanbase over the years (mainly from younger viewers who weren't able to see it in theaters)... but ultimately I think it boils down to one primary thing: it simply looks GOOD.

And it IS good! Really good, in fact! But - and not to shamelessly plug, I touched upon this in the newest issue of Fangoria, so apologies for repeating myself a bit here - the trailer's tone suggested that this, unlike the previous two entries, was returning to the suspense and scariness of the first film and its 1997 sequel, which until today was the only one I found to be a worthy successor. Whereas the first two films were horror movies with humor, the 3rd and 4th films were closer to comedies with some scary stuff thrown in; S4 tried to split the difference, but the tone was still a bit too light for my tastes, and there was no real sense of danger, to either our core trio of Sid, Gale, and Dewey, or the new kids who had their screentime (and thus, chance to flesh out their characters) handicapped by constantly having to step aside and let the original stars continue to be the main characters.

At this point I'll have to just warn you that there are some spoilers ahead. I will not say who the killer or killers is/are, or reveal any other surprise appearances or who dies, but I will be getting more into the film's story than the marketing has let on, because it's somewhat unavoidable. You are warned to proceed with caution, and if you want to stop now, I'll just leave you with my ranking: 1, 2, 5, 4, 3. That should more or less tell you how much you may or may not enjoy this one.

This film's all-new creative team (directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett of Ready or Not fame, writers Guy Busick and James Vanderbilt) bites the bullet and (finally!) sidelines the veteran cast members, wisely opting to focus exclusively on the new cast for like a half an hour (with the exception of Marley Shelton's Judy Hicks, who is now the sheriff but is primarily used as the mother of one of our new leads) before slowly working our old pals into the mix. Our new hero Samantha (Melissa Barrera) is a former Woodsboro resident whose sister (still living there) is attacked by Ghostface, so she returns to town and quickly realizes why someone with *that* costume might be targeting them. And so she turns to "the expert": Dewey Riley, who has retired and is no longer married to Gale, instead living in a trailer like Heath Ledger in the 3rd act of Brokeback Mountain, alone with his regrets.

Dewey in turn messages Gale and Sid, telling them that there's a new Ghostface and urging them not to come back, but as the body count starts to rise, they naturally don't listen to him. Thankfully, enough happens to make it clear that it would take some incredible 4D chess manuevering on Ghostface's part if their plan was to ruin Sidney's life, as it almost seems a surprise to them that she arrives on the scene when she does. Not that Sid is peripheral to the story (though I wasn't surprised to see Neve Campbell got the "and" billing, with her pals under "with"), but the killer's motive has to do with the whole Woodsboro history, not specifically Sid, so she is just part of the puzzle as opposed to the main focus. And even if the killer wasn't concerned with her at all, fans will absolutely adore her scenes, both in terms of where she is in her life now and how she has come to accept her seeming inability to keep Ghostface out of her life for good. It's clear the filmmakers have seen 2018's Halloween revival (indeed, it's directly mentioned in the film), but thankfully their interpretation of our girl isn't inspired by either of Jamie Lee Curtis' big returns to that franchise*; if anything it's closer to how Leia was used in the newest Star Wars films.

You might think that's an odd comparison, but it's an easy one to make since the movie cracks a joke about Rian Johnson "ruining" the Stab series by directing the 8th one, a not too subtle gag about how much whiny SW fans overreacted to his The Last Jedi (aka Episode 8). One of the new characters is Randy's niece Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown), who more or less fills in his duties as the one who knows how these things work, so it falls on her to clue her less astute pals into what they're dealing with. In a very well done scene with all the new kids plus Dewey, she's the one who explains that remakes are no longer in vogue and what people like now are "requels", in which new characters are blended with the older ones (it's here that she references Halloween, but the new Star Wars films are the better example). And yeah, that's kind of what Scream 4 was doing as well, but as those namechecked movies - which didn't exist yet - proved, we don't need to center everything around the older stars, and it can occasionally even work better without them. Without spoiling any particulars, a Scream 6 COULD have older characters back, but honestly, this film's efforts have demonstrated that they can be left out of it entirely and the film will still be appealing. I might not have been as excited for this film without their return (as they did a lot of heavy lifting to legitimize it as a real Scream movie when Wes Craven was obviously not involved and Kevin Williamson's participation was largely ceremonial), but if Paramount announces that Scream 6 will focus on the new survivors and leave the old guard out of it, I'd certainly be just as interested, if not more so.

And that's one place they succeeded where Scream 4 failed, at least for me. By constantly working the legacy characters into the story and once again having the killer blame Sidney for the misfortunes in their own life, the new cast in S4 never got a chance to come into their own, and then the script killed them all off anyway (except for maybe Kirby, whose fate is finally cleared up in this one), making it seem like two hour exercise in returning things to status quo. That's not how this one plays out; everything is from the POV of Sam or her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega), and by the end you will care as much about them and the others (Sam's boyfriend Richie, Tara's girlfriend Amber, Mindy and her brother Chad, Judy's son Wes, etc) as much as you did Randy, Tatum, etc. And, without giving away names or numbers, I think it's safe to say the script wisely leaves more than just one or two of them alive to see a Scream 6 if one should be commissioned.

But fear not, this isn't a tame film by any means. Craven probably spun in his grave if they were able to pass this film with minimal MPAA issues, as it is BRUTAL. Not torture-y, thankfully (Scream 4 was the time to tackle that aspect of horror, and they blew it), but Ghostface is more stab-happy than he's been since he killed Randy, as nearly every victim is stabbed multiple times, with copious amounts of blood and even the occasional prosthetic gag (someone gets it in - and back out of - their neck, it's gnarly as hell). One victim's pool of blood legit left me unsettled, though part of it was that they were one of the film's most endearing characters and I was sad to see them go. The body count may not be as high as some of the others, but the kills all matter, and the new team establishes a real sense of menace that allows the tension to keep rising in ways the previous two sequels lacked. At one point I legit feared for Sidney's life - that hasn't happened in 25 years (let's not forget early drafts of Scream 2 did leave her mortally wounded, so it's not like the idea is completely out of the question).

They're also hellbent on being suspenseful again, teasing out many kill scenes and utilizing our familiarity with horror to their advantage. There's a great sequence where a would-be victim - in a house where we know Ghostface is lurking - manages to find a way to open multiple doors and then close them, with our expectations (aided by Brian Tyler's score, which is quite good and a fine replacement for Marco Beltrami) deflated over and over as we expect the killer to suddenly be there when the door is closed. There are some really good moments involving everyone pointing fingers with others not knowing who to believe (shades of the bit in the original where Randy and Stu are both accusing the other), and while there aren't a lot of full on chase scenes, there is one good one involving a "Find Me" app that is not only a good sequence but also checks off the "use new technology" box that S4 sometimes over-relied on. There's nothing as scary as that opening from the original or as well crafted as the AV room chase in S2, but there is a clear intent to *aim* for those highs, and they occasionally get real close. I mean, I'm 42 years old in a few weeks - I can't expect to be jumping out of my chair like I did all those years ago when he appeared on the other side of the window with Casey. But by emphasizing suspense and not undercutting the horror moments with comedy as much as the previous sequels (hell, even 2 did this a bit), I barely noticed.

Fear not though, it still has some solid humor. Again, tonally it's very much in line with the first two films, but when they do go for a laugh, it actually works. An early victim scoffs at movies like Stab, saying she prefers "elevated horror" like The Witch and The Babadook, Sid and Gale's sort of jaded attitude about having to deal with another of these guys is hilarious (at one point they see someone crying for help, bleeding, and they stop to discuss whether or not it's a trap) and there is a gag about Dewey texting Gale that floored me. There are also some great easter eggs/jokes for hardcore fans; as a little nod to Williamson, a character watches Dawson's Creek in the hospital (and the particular episode they chose was... well, you'll see. But Josh Jackson wasn't the only Scream veteran to be on the show, I'll leave it at that!). And I advise you to listen very carefully to Gale's morning show monologue, as well as train your eye at the "related videos" when someone watches a review of Stab 8 on Youtube.

On that note, there's something in the film I found very smart in addition to satisfying a personal pet peeve: empty text message histories! The logic of filmmakers is that characters never have older messages on their screen when they are texting plot matters to other characters, because the audience will be distracted trying to read the other ones and the editor doesn't want to have the phone on screen that long. Which I get in a way, but it still drives me insane when I see someone text their boyfriend for what appears to be the first time in their life. Here, most of the screens do indeed have older, inconsequential messages above the one they're typing, BUT! there are two exceptions, which stand out in this film of otherwise loaded text screens and quickly tells us, without having to spell it out, that these are characters who are no longer on speaking terms. It's just a little thing, but it just goes to show how much thought they were putting into the film's reality, instead of the indifference that peppered the previous two entries.

As for the killer or killers, I obviously can't get into that too much; maybe by the time it comes to Blu-ray I can do a "Collins' Crypt" style piece somewhere with my thoughts (and I have plenty!). However, I will say that their motive was not only more interesting than "I just want to be famous", but also pretty spot on and even somewhat worrisome, circling back in a modern way to the "blame the movies" idea in a way that actually makes some interesting points about modern fandom. I do wish there could have been something more personal along with it to match Billy's second motive (the one that seemed to surprise even Stu), that Sid's mother is the reason his own mother left, but since the premise of the film is built around people with connections to the original crew (Randy's niece and nephew, the new owners of Stu's house, etc.) I suppose it might veer into silly territory if there was yet another link.

Ultimately, I have very few complaints. One is just a "me" thing - I pegged (a or the) killer pretty early on, which I attribute to just overdosing on these things; it's not a dealbreaker, but I wish I had turned out to be wrong just to remind me that I don't, in fact, know everything when it comes to slasher movies. Another is more valid: there's a third act attempt to have us suspecting a character who we had previously seen being menaced by Ghostface when they were otherwise alone, which might have worked somewhere in the *first* act, but by that point we knew the film was too smart/careful to try to pull that sort of nonsense on us, so I wish they had rethought their approach. It'd be like Ghostface-Stu stabbing Billy without Sid in the room to see it. And that aforementioned use of Stu's house is treated as a big reveal, complete with a "dun dun DUNNNNN" zoom out of the doorway to reveal the exterior, which cuts into the tension of the moment for something that viewers would have already realized anyway (the interior hasn't changed much!) or still won't really understand the significance.

But I mean, come on. Two of my three complaints are nerdy nonsense, which should tell you how much they got right in my eyes. My main disappointment had nothing to do with the movie, it was simply that Scream 4 exists. When Dewey calls Sid and tells her "it's happening again", marking her first appearance in the movie, you almost wish that you could imagine a. it's been 20 years since we last saw her and b. it's been even longer since she had been back in Woodsboro. Alas, Scream 4 already stole that "Sid finally returns home" thunder, so it's not quite as impactful (I liken it to how much better Terminator: Dark Fate might have fared as the "return of Arnold" (post-Salvation) if not for the awful/earlier Genisys) as it could have been if not for a film that otherwise gave her so little to do. This film doesn't erase S4, but, kind of like how Die Hard with a Vengeance seems more naturally progressing from the first film as opposed to Die Harder, perhaps the reason they didn't want to call the film Scream 5 is because what it really feels like at times is that they wanted to be a truer followup to Scream 3 (there's another easter egg involving Sid that backs up this theory; if you're hazy on the 3rd one, I'd advise a rewatch or, at the very least, a reading of the cast list). And if that was indeed their intent, for my money they succeeded admirably. I'm tough to please with these things, and all I really wanted was for it to be better than the last two movies, even if only by a little, but instead I walked out as happy as I did with Scream 2 all those years ago. I had doubts, but they truly nailed it.

What say you?

P.S. I cried at the final dedication to Craven. If you've purchased Collins' Crypt: Remastered and read the new piece in the Wes-centric chapter, you know that I've been feeling guilty wanting to see this movie when my man wasn't behind the camera, so seeing that made me feel better. And yes, they bring the old-school font back after Scream 4 had a different, blockier one! Also, for those curious, "Red Right Hand" also makes a return, though it's used rather oddly, seemingly playing on a car stereo during a kill scene.

*Because I am writing a piece on Scream 3 this week, I've been diving deeper into it than I ever have and I am only just now realizing how much of it was seemingly inspired by H20, which made Dimension a lot of money the year before Scream 3 went into production. Scream 3 used the same location, the "our heroine is living in Northern California under a new name" plot device, AND had an opening scene where someone is killed to get her whereabouts. For good measure, both films also were edited by Patrick Lussier and featured Creed songs over the credits, not to mention had less Kevin Williamson involvement than was originally planned. I bet a double feature would even yield more similarities.



Hey everyone! Just wanted to let you all know that my new book, Collins' Crypt: Remastered is now available HERE at Amazon. As the title suggests, it's a collection of many of my Crypt articles from Birth.Movies.Death (RIP) from over the past decade, but with a few nips and tucks to improve grammar, correct the odd typo, etc, while also adding notes/updates where appropriate. I always tried to make sure my pieces were still of value weeks/months/years later (unlike the casting news stories that make up the majority of movie sites' content), and when going through the pieces and curating which ones to include, I was happy to see that most of them were indeed just as relevant now as they were when they were written.

But the real draw (I hope!) is that the book contains eight brand-new Crypt essays that were written exclusively for this collection. So yes, while the majority of the book is something you can - and may already have - read for free (albeit with ads and broken images), you're getting a decent amount of new material, for around the usual cost of a monthly Patreon subscription. Except you'll only have to "subscribe" once, and you already know you're getting plenty in return! Show of hands: who else has signed up for a friend's Patreon only to see them let it basically lapse while still collecting your monthly fee? It sucks, right? Well, this avoids the potential ripoff you endure out of loyalty! Some of the new pieces include a comparison of the two versions of Exorcist 4, an apology of sorts for being excited for a Wes-free new Scream film, and a celebration of the insanity that is Hausu. Plus: a new installment of the much loved Minute by Minute series - the first one in over eight years!

If you enjoy it, please take a moment to submit a rating and/or review to help get it on more eyeballs. I'd love to do more volumes (a second one is already partially planned out) but only if it sells enough to warrant all the work it takes (not to mention paying an editor and cover artist). And of course, plug on your socials if you feel so inclined; it's just so hard to get something on anyone's radar these days, so every bit helps. Thank you in advance, and Happy Holidays to you all!


Mill Of The Stone Women (1960)

DECEMBER 14, 2021


One fun thing about diving so deep into older films is that I (and I assume most others) can usually tell more or less when a film was made just by looking at the film stock; I can usually get within a five year period after looking at a single shot in motion, regardless of the fashions or the age of any recognizable actors. It was a skill that threw me for a loop when watching Mill of the Stone Women, because for some reason I thought it was from 1972 but could tell just by looking at it that it had to be at least a decade older. And I was right - it was produced in 1960, and is in fact the first Italian horror movie made in color. I love seeing the firsts!

Ironically, if my eyes (and looking at the back of the damn Blu case, which noted the year) hadn't told me otherwise, I'd be convinced the film was a response to not only the Corman/Poe/Price films, but later Hammer Frankenstein entries that made Peter Cushing into more of a villain than the 1958 original. But no, it (obviously) came before those, being produced more or less at the same time as Corman's first Poe film (House of Usher) and having only the first two Hammer Frankensteins to draw from. The real influence (besides the Frankensteins and other Hammer films from the late '50s) were the two wax movies: House of Wax and Mysteries of the Wax Museum, as the titular Mill is actually a museum of sorts where historical women made of "stone" can be gawked at by townsfolk and tourists.

Being that it's a horror movie, there's no real surprise to learn that they're not stone, but the plot is still more interesting than you'd think. Turns out it's kind of a two birds with one stone (heh) kinda deal, as the resident mad scientist is indeed killing women and using them for his attraction, but he's doing it for a noble (to him) reason: his daughter Elfie (Scilla Gabel, an absolute stunner - thank you, remastered Blu-ray) has a rare blood disease that kills her whenever she gets excited or distraught, so he and his assistant find women with the right blood type, drain them out to revive his daughter, and use their corpses to keep his museum going instead of using actual stone or whatever earthly materials. It's a very environmentally friendly horror plot, I must say.

But being that this is a genre film from the olden days (61 years old! They didn't even have feature movies that old when this came out!), it takes a while to get to that stuff. It can be a bit "slow" at times, even when you consider its age, but then again, being that it was their first attempt at something like this (in full lurid color - there's even a brief nipple shot, which kind of stunned me) it shouldn't be a surprise that it wasn't exactly roller-coaster paced. Luckily, the hero, Hans (Pierre Brice) isn't as dull as a lot of the guys in those Corman movies it resembles - in fact, the plot kicks into gear because he cheats on his girlfriend with Elfie on the day he meets her, the dog. And it's his "I shouldn't have done that, sorry" dismissal that leaves her emotional enough to instantly drop dead, so he's feeling justifiably guilty on two levels for the rest of the movie - it's one thing to cheat on your girl, but to basically cause the other woman's death as a result? Damn.

Most of it takes place inside the mill or their homes, but there are a few exteriors that were lensed in gloomy Holland, giving it that proper foggy atmosphere that will make this an easy recommendation for the Halloween season. But even the interiors are quite nice to look at; both DP Pier Ludovico Pavoni and director Giorgio Ferroni have a lot of "sword and sandal" type movies on their resumes and are thus accustomed to having bigger areas to shoot in, but they clearly didn't let themselves be hamstrung by the confines of relatively small sets - the mill in particular is top-notch work, at least inside (the exterior miniature isn't very convincing, alas). The colors are also all vivid and lush; apparently they wanted to assure the money men that color film was worth the extra dough. I can't say the movie wouldn't work in black and white, but when coupled with its occasionally sluggish pace, it'd certainly be less memorable.

Arrow's deluxe set for the film includes a whopping four versions, but alas I did not have time to go through them all. The one to go with is, naturally, the Italian version, as it is the most complete, but it should be noted that the film has an international cast all of whom are speaking their native tongues, so you're still going to encounter some dubbing. You can just go with the English version (the content of the film is the same, I believe?) if reading the subtitles is an issue, but as is often the case the dub track and the subtitle track offer varations on nearly every line, so basically no matter what you're dealing with compromise. On the second disc there's a French version, which has a scene that was added at the insistence of its French producers (a conversation that clarifies some of the character's histories with one another), but is missing a few others, so it wouldn't be the best place to start. And the other version is of no use to any newcomer, as it removes those scenes AND the added French one, from what I understand. But I like that they went out of their way to include it; I'm sure it's someone's preferred version due to having it on VHS or whatever, so hey, now they can have their hacked up take looking all lovely on the remastered high def transfer.

There are also some bonus features, including a video essay by Kat Ellinger (I am a big fan of these; they're like Cliff's Note commentaries) and an interview with Liana Orfei, who plays one of the unwilling eventual Stone Women. There's also a commentary by Tim Lucas, who is the go to guy for Bava and thus it wasn't much of a surprise that the conversation turned to him a few times (he launches a convincing argument that Bava actually ghost-directed a couple of key scenes), though I was cerrtainly not expecting a history of LSD to be included. Overall it's not a bad track but one of the ones where I wish he was paired with someone to bounce off of and keep it a little more lively, as Lucas always sounds like he's reading from a report and thus it can be a bit dry to listen to even when the information is sound. The deluxe edition also includes a book that has two essays (one on the film's overall legacy, the other tracking its multiple versions) as well as some review excerpts from the time, which is interesting as not all of them are exactly glowing.

It's definitely a "not for everyone" kind of film, as its horror elements are relatively muted and it will probably remind any seasoned viewer of more exicting films, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The pre-giallo era of Italian horror is one area I am definitely not as well versed in (as I've noted, I "appreciate" Bava more than I "enjoy" his films, for the most part), so I'm always happy to fill that gap in a little more, and anything that might have helped influence my beloved Tourist Trap is obviously something I'm going to admire. And I love seeing so much care for it on Arrow's part; it's not exactly a film that people are beating down their doors for them to release, and yet they offer it this deluxe release with a book, a poster, four cuts of the film... basically, everything a fan could want, even if there aren't a lot of them out there. Every movie deserves this kind of treatment!

What say you?


Giallo Essentials Vol. 1

DECEMBER 7, 2021


Vinegar Syndrome has released a few volumes of "Forgotten Gialli", with obscure entries in the sub-genre that are, as can be expected, pretty hit or miss (otherwise they wouldn't be forgotten), but it's been a while since they put one out. Luckily, Arrow has picked up the slack and gone in the opposite with a collection they have dubbed Giallo Essentials, collecting a trio of previous releases at a lower price point than buying them individually. As far as I can tell the discs are identical to their standalone counterparts, and the boxed set doesn't save you any space either, so if you already own them there's no reason to pick this up. However, if you haven't already been blessed by The Fifth Cord, The Possessed, and The Pyjama Girl Case, then it's a no brainer to pick this up.

The only one I had actually seen before was The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete), and you can read my full review HERE (feel free to chuckle at the "source" - remember when we called it that? Or when they actually had obscure films like this on the service? Memories...). No sense of repeating myself too much, except to say that it's just as good a second time around (possibly better, since I got to watch it in Italian this time), especially since it had been so long that I forgot who the killer was anyway. I also forgot how people apparently found it hard to follow, which baffles me as much now as it did then - this is one of the most coherent entries in the entire genre! I always try to be optimistic, but ultimately I may have to just accept that a lot of people are simply very stupid.

The disc has a lot of bonus features I obviously wouldn't have had access to on "Netflix Instant" even if they existed then (looks like the majority were created in 2018). It's a solid mix of recollections from people involved, including star Franco Nero and editor Eugenio Alabiso, as well as the historian efforts like a commentary from Travis Crawford and a terrific video essay from Rachael Nisbet that highlights underappreciated director Luigi Bazzoni's visual style, particularly his penchant for filming characters in front of or behind blinds or glass (sometimes both!), embellishing their feelings of being trapped or whatever. Gialli critics like to assume it's all just a bunch of zooms and "male gaze" kind of stuff, and there certainly is a lot of it across the genre, but things like this really help illustrate that these filmmakers aren't just a bunch of horny hacks.

Bazzoni codirected the earlier The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago) with Franco Rossellini, which is sort of a "proto-giallo" that is not only shot in black & white (not unlike Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much, widely considered the real origin of the genre) but is also based on a true story. One that, according to the historian commentary by Tim Lucas, actually had more murders than the film offers! It's more of a sad drama with some thriller elements than anything one might conjure when thinking of a giallo - for starters, I don't think the hero of the film is ever in any real danger until the final moments. He's a struggling author who has returned to a hotel where he once stayed, hoping to get his creative juices flowing but really hoping to get reacquainted with one of their employees, who he had a brief fling with on his last visit. Alas, the girl (Tilde) is nowhere to be found, and since we're technically in giallo territory it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that she has in fact died. The reports say suicide, but...

So, yeah, the movie is about a guy trying to solve a months-old murder, but it doesn't seem like the killer is active and ready to strike again, which is why it feels more like a drama about a lost love. The thriller elements are enjoyable, but I think anyone expecting Deep Red or Don't Torture A Duckling style excess will be disappointed, to the extent that it might be even doing the film a disservice to include it on a GIALLO ESSENTIALS set - it'd be like putting Peeping Tom in a set with The Burning and Silent Night Deadly Night or something. Not that I didn't enjoy the film - on the contrary, I found it quite engaging and enjoyed the change of pace, but some viewers may not adjust as quickly and feel bored. Just a warning! Enjoy it for what it is, don't dismiss it for what it isn't!

The third film on the set is also kind of light on the violence, but it too is based on a true story so you can't really blame them for having some tact. The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo) is based on a real life mystery involving an unidentified body, and uses the names and more or less the same motive as the person ultimately convicted of the crime, although many believe the case was never truly solved (for starters, the victim had different color eyes than the woman the murderer claimed he killed!). At any rate, it's an engaging film that splits its time between the detectives (including a hilarious Ray Milland as a grouchy old-school cop that scoffs at psychoanalysis) and a woman named Linda who is desperate to find love. She is currently dividing her time between at least three men, each having something the other lacks, presumably trying to feel out which one would be best in the long run.

One might assume she is the killer's next victim, but (spoiler for 45 year old movie ahead) after a while it shouldn't take too many brain cells to realize that the film has a split timeline, and she is in fact the dead woman that the other characters are trying to identify. It's an unusual approach to this sort of thing, and director Flavio Mogherini treats it as a twist of sorts, neglecting to note that half of the scenes are essentially flashbacks by coloring them differently or doing on-screen "Six months earlier" kind of text. Saw fans will be accustomed to this sort of thing (given that it's set in Australia, I'd be very curious if the Aussie directors of Jigsaw are fans, as it did the same thing albeit more overtly in service of a twist), but a casual viewer might just be puzzled why the two sets of characters aren't interacting and - perhaps more importantly if they sat down for a giallo - why no one else was being killed.

That said, as with Possessed I found it quite involving, aided greatly by both Milland's delightful performance (wait til you see his final send off to a pervert suspect) but also the lovely Riz Ortolani score, which also includes a pretty haunting/amazing theme song sung by Amanda Lear (listen here if you've never been blessed). Ortolani is on hand for an interview along with actor Howard Ross and editor Alberto Tagliavia, but for my money the highlight of the video extras is a lengthy interview/essay by Michael Mackenzie, who speaks about the "globalization" of giallo, i.e. how many of them feature plots of visiting Americans (or any non-Italian really) being caught up in a murder mystery in Italy, or an Italian going somewhere and, yes, being caught up in a murder mystery. To his knowledge (so I'll believe him) this is the only one set in Australia, which certainly gave it some new flavoring even if Mogherini seemed a bit obsessed with showing the Opera House in Sydney. There's also a Troy Howarth commentary, but it's a little icky at times - he is clearly quite infatuated with the actress playing Linda (who is indeed beautiful), laments at the brevity of a lesbian scene, and at one point basically admits to masturbating. I know I complain about them running off the filmographies of the actors, but I'd rather listen to that, I must say.

A second volume is already on the way, including Torso, What Have They Done To Your Daughters, and Strip Nude For Your Killer, all of which definitely fall in "your mental image of a giallo" territory. And I've seen them all (in fact I think I have the original Arrow releases!), which is a bummer because I was hoping to discover more, but I like that they're being released so close together. A new fan to the genre can get both and enjoy a trio of traditional entries, and then another group of more offbeat, dare I say classier (or at least, less sleazy) titles that, when you group all six together, really shows off the range and potential of this somewhat underappreciated genre. Add in all of the bonus features and you can basically go from newbie to halfway decent scholar for the price of two boxed sets!

What say you?


Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

NOVEMBER 24, 2021


One thing about covid that's interesting is that it's given movies a new possible reason to be underwhelming, as the logistics of mounting a production under these circumstances can be pretty daunting on top of the usual hurdles filmmaking must entail. So when you add in the fact that there has been and possibly will never be a foolproof formula for adapting a video game into a successful movie, it's almost a miracle that Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is even watchable, let alone "OK" and even kind of fun at times. But I could never shake the feeling that it could have been closer to "genuinely good" if it was produced in 2019, or (hopefully?) a year or two down the road.

Literally from the start, something seemed off about the film. It opens on a flashback of our eventual heroes, Claire and Chris Redfield (I'm going to assume you have at least passing familiarity with the games, just fair warning) at an orphanage, with the former being woken up - seemingly not for the first time - by a mysterious figure no one else thinks exists. The scene seems to last twice as long as any opening flashback of its type should, and there are other examples throughout the film that had me wondering if these scenes weren't supposed to take up as much screentime as they do, but merely had to be padded out in order to get the film into acceptable runtime (which, nowadays, means over 100 minutes, as anything shorter suggests it was compromised) as there were other scenes that had to be scrapped because there was no way to do them right under covid restrictions.

Similarly, there are at least two occasions in the movie where it felt like a scene was dropped, with characters appearing in new locations when they were far away the last time we saw them (in one instance, the character seemingly abandoned their spoken plan entirely and went in the opposite direction). There are also some dropped subplots, like armed mercenary types from Umbrella who are seen executing townsfolk, only to never appear again, let alone be a continual threat to our heroes. It's possible these scenes were indeed filmed and merely dropped for pacing or whatever, but when you consider the aforementioned scenes that go on for so long or simply have no followup, only an 11th hour hack job on par with the "glory years" of Dimension could explain these gaps.

No, I suspect covid and/or perhaps a reduced budget had writer/director Johannes Roberts forced into the unenviable position of having to streamline his ideas into something that could still be coherent and offer up the requisite number of scares and thrills. The movie's heart is clearly in the right place, something that will be very apparent to fans of the games who were left cold by Paul Anderson's dismissal of most of its canon. His films had pretty much all of the franchises' main players show up in some capacity, but the plots never really even came close to the storylines from the games (not surprising since they all revolved around Milla Jovovich's Alice, who has no game counterpart).

In contrast, Roberts definitely dives into the first two games, with Chris and Jill heading to the mansion to investigate what happened to a previous team, while Leon and Claire are out in the city as the latter searches for her brother. The movie presents these narratives as occurring simultaneously (the games were a couple months apart, if memory serves), which works just fine in some cases, but also keeps the two leads apart for far too much of the runtime. With Roberts using the Carpenter font and setting up a big chunk of the film's first half in a police station, it's not hard to think about a potential Assault on Precinct 13 style narrative, where you'd have all these characters with different motives all having to band together to fight zombies and monsters (either at the station or the more famous Spencer Mansion), but the movie is almost over by the time Claire and Leon finally meet up with the others.

(Speaking of Leon, the guy playing him is awful and grating. However you feel about how the character was used in the 5th entry in the previous franchise, at least that actor looked and felt like the actual Leon. This guy's like obvious cannon fodder you have to put up with for the whole movie, and seemingly ends every one of his scenes on some variation of "What the f___?" Maybe non gamers won't notice/care, but considering how much of the rest of the movie seems designed to please them, it's a really bizarre choice.)

Instead, we just keep going back and forth between the two groups, which means there are a couple of good sequences on their own (love the bit of a Licker making its presence known by lumbering on the floor above, making the hanging lights sway in succession until it's obviously right above our hero), but a noted lack of tension. Every time we switch to the other team, it's like hitting a soft reset, and by the time things start getting going with their story, it's time to check in with the others again. Plus, two small teams means there's entirely too much "safe" action - there's a noted lack of non-game characters who are around for more than a scene or two, and you don't have to be a game fan to know that the Redfields, Leon, and Jill are not going to die in this would-be franchise (re)starter, so apart from a few well done jolt moments, there's not a lot of terror to be found. There are bits in that first game - some recreated here! - that can still get a little yelp out of me, but too much of this film felt more like the 5th and 6th games, where action took precedence over horror. People say these movies are as fun as watching someone else play a game, but this goes further - it's like watching someone *expertly* play these games, robbing the viewer of true carnage.

I also couldn't understand the point of the 1998 setting apart from being faithul to the games. Umbrella seemingly controls every aspect of this town, so a simple "no cell phones" excuse doesn't work - they just would have blocked them anyway. It's actually kind of ironically funny when a character is given a Palm Pilot and has no idea what it is; if the movie was set in 2021, anyone under like 35 (as the character is) would be just as confused anyway. Roberts tosses in some '90s pop songs (no Steinman though, so Strangers 2 remains his peak in that department), but otherwise there isn't much point to the setting; for the most part you're likely to forget that it's supposed to be set nearly 25 years ago. And really, given its covid-era production (it was shot in late 2020) it almost seems like a missed opportunity to not draw on it for their plot about a virus spiraling out of control.

The good news is, unless you are simply Pavlovian with your reaction to Easter eggs and references to the games (I admit to laughing out loud at a "Jill sandwich" gag), you don't need to be a fan of the games to get as much enjoyment out of it as you can - I suspect newcomers and hardcore fans alike will agree that it misses the mark. It's certainly a decent enough timekiller, but never really rises above its straightforward goal of "being more faithful." Yeah, sure, you nailed that - but most if not all of Anderson's movies are more engaging and exciting, regardless of how they "ruined" this or that character. So in my book, that's not really an improvement; I'd rather a filmmaker tossed everything and made a movie that stands alone rather than watch one where more time was spent on matching the floor plan of a building than thinking of interesting things for the characters to DO in that building.

What say you?


Maniac Cop 2 & 3

NOVEMBER 21, 2021


To me, the true sign of a new format hitting its stride and being here to stay (so, unlike Divx or HD-DVD) is when high profile direct to video stuff starts coming along. You can always count on the studios to jump into the fray with their classics (it seems Warner Bros puts Goodfellas out on a new format the second it exists), and the boutique labels will test the waters with their big guns (i.e. Scream Factory with Halloween 1-5), but it's not until I see the likes of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence hitting 4K UHD that I can truly breathe easy and know that this is the format we will use for another eight or nine years until something better comes along yet again.

In fact, the original film still isn't even out on the format, making the sequels' appearance all the more wonderful. It was certainly a win for me, as I have never actually seen either of them; I remember a friend putting on MC2 one night when having me and a few other like minded "horror guys" over, but we all talked and drank through the entire thing, so when I sat down to watch it properly (a decade later to boot) it was basically like seeing it for the first time. More than once I've gotten questions about the films wrong during horror trivia, so I had them penciled in to finally get around to seeing anyway - what a treat to get to see them all properly remastered and what not!

Anyone who has watched the credits or behind the scenes stuff on the Fast films will know the name Spiro Razatos, as he has served as the main stunt coordinator for all of the mainline films since Fast Five, but he got his start as a regular stunt guy and later coordinator in smaller genre films like this - one of his first credits as coordinator was the infamous Silent Night Deadly Night 2, in fact, which explains why such a junky film has such amazing stunts (I'm still blown away by the car almost hitting Santa Ricky). William Lustig, who directed all three films (though he didn't shoot all of the 3rd one, more on that later) wisely retained his services each time out, and it's what he brought to the table that makes these films so much more fun than you might expect. The stunt work here, especially in MC2, outpaces what you'll find in movies that cost five times as much.

Razatos' work also helps make up for the fact that, you know, Tom Atkins isn't around anymore. While the vengeful titular character (played by Robert Z'Dar in all three) can be resurrected time and time again, the people he kills stay dead, so Atkins doesn't come back for MC2 and (spoiler for 30 year old movie ahead) surviving co-star Bruce Campbell is wiped out in his third scene, which was probably a real shock to audiences then but for me was pretty much the only thing I remembered about it. He is more or less replaced by Robert Davi, who has considerable presence, but is really used better as an antagonist or foil, not a leading man hero. And it doesn't help that his character seems completely different in the 3rd film, though it makes sense when you listen to the commentary by Lustig and Joel Soisson (who finished the film when Lustig quit; the two have patched things up) and realize the role was indeed written for a new character, but due to the demands of their foreign distributors, they had to bring Davi back via rewrite (unless I missed it, it's unclear how, if all, Davi's character - who survived MC2 - was originally meant to be handled in the 3rd film).

Luckily, Lustig stacked his supporting cast with so many ringers that it hardly matters who the lead is. Davi's Die Hard co-stars Grand Bush and Paul Gleason pop up in the third one, as does Robert Forster, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Raimi. And in MC2 you get even more! Leo Rossi, Clarence Williams III, Charles Napier, Michael Lerner, and Danny Trejo are all on hand, as is Sam Raimi, reprising his newscaster role from the first film (Ted is the newscaster in 3, but I'm not sure if he's supposed to be the same guy - either way, it's a funny recasting). I was actually disappointed to see producer/writer Larry Cohen didn't rope Michael Moriarty into one of them somewhere.

Lustig has said that the 2nd film is his favorite of all the ones he's done, and while I can certainly see why he'd feel that way, I gotta be honest: I think I actually preferred 3, if only by a hair (I gave them both three stars, if that's how you measure success). Maybe it's because my expectations were so low due to knowing that it had problems (Lustig even took his name off; he's credited as Alan Smithee), but while MC2 is a lot of fun it's basically a straight up action movie with some supernatural elements tossed into the mix, and has that Predator 2 problem (hey, Davi is in that one too!) where the hero spends most of the movie trying to figure out what we already know from the first movie. So the action is top notch, yes, but the story itself is never very involving even by sequel standards.

Badge of Silence, on the other hand, apes Bride of Frankenstein (!) and has Cordell sort of protecting a would-be successor, a female cop who likes to jump into the fray and worry about things like paperwork later. She is brain dead from a shootout, so Cordell stalks the hospital, murdering doctors who don't care about trying to save her while Davi tries to clear her name (some tabloid guys who filmed the shootout made it look like she killed an innocent witness). Not only does this keep the film from feeling too much like a retread (and also doesn't make 2's weird mistake of focusing on a different villain for most of the middle of the movie), but the voodoo-tinged elements and Bride aping puts it back into horror territory. There are still a pair of great action scenes (hard to top 2's car chase, admittedly, but this time Cordell is on fire the entire time so that gives it some oomph), but overall it comes off more as a traditional revenge movie like Dr. Phibes or something, albeit filtered through Lustig and Cohen's warped/grindhouse sensibilities.

Both films come with a decent smattering of bonus features, though the only ones on the 4K disc are the trailers and the commentaries. Nicolas Refn moderates Lustig on MC2, and it's not the best track I've ever heard - Refn is bizarrely obsessed with the film's financing and distribution history as opposed to what is happening on screen, so while there are some good insights here and there (including a pretty funny story of how they landed Davi in the first place), I spent most of the time wishing Lustig had just gone solo and maybe talked more about, you know, the actual movie. However, even if you hate Badge of Silence, I think you'll enjoy the (new) commentary with Lustig and Soisson, as the two have let bygones be bygones but occasionally stumble into awkward territory (on occasion they can't remember who directed a certain scene, Soisson brings up a Fangoria where Lustig mocked him, etc), making it the sort of candid track we rarely get to hear anymore. The rest of the bonus features, all from the previous releases, are on the included standard Blu-ray, and include a Q&A from a screening of MC2, a few deleted scenes, and a retrospective doc for each films. As those Blu-rays are nearly a decade old I'm sure anyone who really wanted them has seen them by now, but it's good that they're all included; as with the commentaries, the retrospectives don't hold back on unpleasant matters about the films' respective productions, so that's always a plus.

A remake (by Refn, in fact) has been in the works for a while, though I'm sure the real life crimes of police officers make a story about a framed cop a hard sell right now, unless they plan to lean into it and update the story for today's world. On the other hand, some folks might take pleasure at scenes of Cordell mowing down entire precincts (as he does in MC2), so I dunno. A remake will certainly get Synapse inspired to remaster the original (again, assuming it's still under their control), so for that alone I'm all for it - these two are going to look lonely on my shelf without the original next to them! (I only had the DVD, and got rid of it a while ago because it was such a bad transfer; I assume if I were to buy the Blu-ray they will announce a 4K before my purchase even got delivered, so I'm gonna let someone else take that bullet.) If you already own the Blus and don't care much about improved transfers, there's definitely no need to upgrade 2, but MC3 is worth buying for the new commentary for sure - or just to, like Lustig himself, give it a fresh look and realize it's really not all that bad.

What say you?


Antlers (2021)

NOVEMBER 3, 2021


If my memory hasn't failed me, Antlers is the last of the delayed horror movies whose trailers appeared nearly every time I went to the drive-in over the past eighteen months (the others were Candyman, Night House, and Spiral). When you add in the times I've seen it before the normal theatrical excursions I've had since (including Night House itself!), I've probably seen the trailer thirty times by now, which could be a record? But if anything it makes me appreciate the movie all the more, as it doesn't really give the whole thing away; despite my overexposure to two minutes' worth of its footage, it was a pretty fresh viewing experience.

Not that the trailer was misleading or anything; it tells you what we're dealing with (a Wendigo) and also shows that its young protagonist, Lucas (Jeremy T. Thomas, who is terrific) is feeding it and keeping it locked up. But the devil's in the details, and thankfully that's where the trailer didn't show too much, opting for atmospheric scare shots and a general vibe as opposed to spelling everything out. Even basic things, like the fact that Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons' characters are siblings, were things I learned from actually watching the movie, which was just kind of amusing when you consider how long (not)Fox Searchlight has been trying to sell me on it.

That said, while I enjoyed the movie a lot, it does suffer a bit from being based on a very short story by Nick Antosca. The basics are accounted for in his story (teacher, kid, "pet" Wendigo) but if they were to film it to the letter, it'd probably be about ten minutes long. That means adding a lot to the feature, including more on the Wendigo (not even mentioned in the story; Antosca just describes a man-eating monster with, yes, antlers), a bully for Lucas, a prologue about his family, and an abusive past for Russell and Plemons' characters. But it never quite shakes that "expanded from a short story" feeling; Plemons' sheriff character basically has to keep saying "my hands are tied!" or something every time something happens to allow it to keep going to hit feature length, because if the cops were more proactive the movie would be over in about a half hour or so. I think it takes something like three characters to go missing before he finally starts asking questions.

Which means it's great that they casted Plemons, because how can you not love that guy? Let him bumble about, bless him! But he and Russell's character also had an abusive upbringing, and here the script could have used a little more expansion. Not that I want awful details about whatever their dad did to them, but their mom is barely mentioned, and Russell eventually ran away (feeling guilty for leaving her brother to deal with the abuse alone), but has returned to town for... reasons? It's never really explained why she came back at all. We can assume it has something to do with her being an alcoholic; Russell completely nails a wordless "newly sober person dying for a drink" moment with just a mere pursing of her lips (before we even see the booze she's eyeing), but again, details are not forthcoming. In a more densely plotted film, it would be enough (honestly, for a horror movie it's, if anything, an above average amount of backstory), but when the plot is basically "a teacher finds out her troubled student is living with a monster" and little else, these shortcomings are easier to notice.

However, the monster stuff is all great! The creature itself, rarely even glimpsed until the final reel, is a terrific design (fans of The Ritual will be into it) that justifies the film's kind of silly title, and there's a jump scare kill that even gave me a jolt. I was a bit disappointed when I read the story after to discover that the film denied us the second monster Antosca had envisioned (I don't want to spoil the particulars), but the solo act works fine. And thanks to Thomas' performance, it's actually a fairly upsetting sequence of events; you really feel for this poor kid and how much he has lost/loses in the film. Plus, without getting into spoilers, one could compare to something like The Wolf Man or The Fly in that "Antlers" is not a monster by choice; a key flashback moment about an hour into the film is pretty surprising when you discover how far along the doomed character was before losing their humanity.

It's also a lovely looking film, albeit for a grimy-ass town. As usual, Canada is used for our Northwest (Oregon, specifically; a switch from the story's West Virginia setting), but it's a pretty good fit - nothing really stood out as being "off" to my eyes. They didn't even cast Julian Richings or Stephen McHattie! The major characters played by Canadian cast members are Michael Eklund and Graham Greene, whose role definitely could have been fleshed out more (he has no counterpart in the short story but feels like a character whose significance was reduced due to the adaptation process, funnily enough). And producer Guillermo Del Toro brought his Pan's Labyrinth composer Javier Navarrete along for the ride; it's not an "all timer" score or anything but it at least doesn't sound like every other goddamn movie out there. I saw the new Bond the next day and while I liked it a lot, Hans Zimmer's score was lazy even by his modern standards - half the action climax was set to a barely reworked version of his Dark Knight theme. So any time I see a movie with a score that isn't constantly reminding me of fifteen other movies, I feel I should point it out. Encouragement is key!

With a little more character work this could have been a contender for my top 10 of the year (if that was something I bothered to do), but as is I'm just happy to see an original and professionally made "Hollywood" monster movie again, since they are so rare in this world of James Wannabe efforts and sequels. I don't think the long delay helped it any (even Del Toro's name didn't seem to help it much; though maybe that wouldn't have been the case if there wasn't a genuine GDT film coming out in a few weeks), but I'm glad I got to see it in a theater instead of having it become another covid casualty, sent to streaming for audiences who never take one eye off their phone the entire time. Keep up the good fight, filmmakers, and I'll keep buying tickets.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Demons & Demons 2

NOVEMBER 2, 2021


Technically I saw Phenomena (as Creepers) and Zombie (as "Zombie 2" aka "Dawn of the Dead 2") first, but Lamberto Bava's Demons was the first time I watched a movie specifically to watch "an Italian horror movie", borrowed on VHS from a friend who was a little more cultured than I was at that point in my life (16 or 17?). So hundreds of gialli and zombie and whatever the hell those "La Casa" sequels are later, it's fun to go back to what more or less started my affinity for their brand of horror. Synapse has remastered the first film along with Demons 2 and packaged them as one, with lots of bonus features old and new, giving me a fine excuse to revisit them for a rare home viewing. Since they both tend to show relatively often around here, I can't even remember the last time I watched the first one at home - it might have been the Anchor Bay DVD sometime in college? And Demons 2 was a HMAD review from the first few months!

Needless to say the films look the best I've seen. There's a 4K UHD release as well, which is what I requested for review, but they sent me the standard Blu-ray set, which doesn't have as many bonus features and, obviously, lacks the Ultra High Def image I was looking forward to. But suffice to say even the regular Blu looks pretty great for both films, minus the occasional damage to the master print that isn't any fault of theirs (a few exterior shots in Demons 2 look like they are... vibrating? I don't know how to describe it), allowing Sergio Stivaletti's makeup effects to truly shine. The man loves having teeth fall out and get replaced with bigger, gnarlier teeth, and those shots display his practical mastery in all their glory. Italian and English audio is available for both films as well, so long story short it's safe to say these will be the definitive editions for these oft-released films.

And they hold up well! It's been a while since I've seen either of them, and I was pleased to discover that after all these years, Demons remains a favorite when it comes to Italian horror, placing only under a couple of Argento's films if I were to rank the whole lot of them. The opening sequence on the subway still plays great, the pacing is strong, the supporting cast is entertaining... everything is pretty entertaining even before the damn demons show up. And yes, I know I called it a zombie movie when they're demons, but as with 28 Days Later, they function the same way (get bitten and change, swarms attacking, etc) so I feel the label is fair. The key difference is that the more overt supernatural elements allow Bava, Stivaletti, etc. to have a little more fun and imagination with their gore/horror scenes - there's a sort of Evil Dead-esque kitchen sink attitude to the proceedings that keeps you on your toes.

This is even more evident in the second film, where a demon literally comes out of the TV (in an effect that looks like CGI before they had access to such a thing! They figured it out!) and another little Gremlin-y kinda puppet demon runs around for a while. Plus there's an evil dog out of The Thing for good measure. The sequel as a whole isn't as good as the first, and I don't recommend watching them back to back due to the sameyness (it's amusing that of the two returning cast members, one seems like he's playing the same guy while the other is a total 180 from his previous character), but it's good fun all the same, and (spoiler for 35 year old movie ahead) I like that it ends hopefully, instead of the out of nowhere downer end of the first in which our heroine suddenly becomes a demon and is nonchalantly dispatched in a world being overrun. The do-over approach in the sequel doesn't extend to its denouement; our survivors walk out into a bright sunny day and there's no indication that things are about to get worse. Yay!

As mentioned, the Blu-ray version doesn't have as many bonus features as the 4K set, but based on my research it seems everything that got left out are legacy bonus features a fan might have on previous releases anyway. The handful of new features are present on both versions, including a historian commentary for each film. The first movie is blessed with the usually fun track from Kat Ellinger, who is joined by Heather Drain, and the pair do the usual historian stuff but frequently pause their own insightful observations or history lesson by noting a particularly amusing gore effect or line reading, keeping things from getting too dry. This is sadly not the case for the second film, which is a solo track by Travis Crawford that can be a bit of a snoozer at times, as he rarely addresses the film at all and occasionally even seems to be forgetting he's doing the sequel, as he gives a history of movie-theater set horror films that seems ill-fitting for a film that does not take place in a movie theater. He also bizarrely ends it on a downer note about Asia Argento (who made her debut here), discussing her assault by Harvey W, her own sexual assault accusations from a younger actor, and the suicide of her partner - all over scenes long after her character had exited! It's weird, and once again had me thinking that these things need two people conversing over them to stay engaging.

The other new features are visual essays. On Demons 2, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas contributes "Together and Apart", a look at both films and how they use space and their respect locations (and mediums) to tell their stories, noting things like Cheryl going from a crowded subway car to an empty, gothic looking subway station, and how the climax of Demons 2 has the heroes have their final showdown in a television studio, a fitting visual metaphor since TV was the source of all the carnage in the film. If you're not a fan of the films you'll find it ludicrous that anyone involved put that much thought into it, but Alexandra makes a strong case that the films are smarter than they appear on the surface. On the first film, Michael Mackenzie runs through Argento's career as a producer, which naturally means it's not particularly Demons-centric (if anything he seems to have more to say about everything else, in particular Michele Soavi's later Church and Sect films) but if you're an Argento fan you won't mind much; it's not often you get to hear anyone exploring his work outside of his own directorial efforts.

That said, it would have been nice to hear more about the films' actual director, Lamberto Bava. The UHD version has an interview with Bava ("Carnage at the Cinema") but it didn't make the cut for this stripped down release. Instead we get TWO interviews with Argento himself where he says a lot of the same things, though amusingly he says in one he probably won't work with Bava again and in the other says he would love to do that, plus a lengthy chat with Claudio Simonetti (in English; Argento's are in Italian) where he talks about his work on this film and, of course, his other collaborations with the maestro, and an interview with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, which is fun until he depressingly notes that Italy only produces about 25 films a year now, down from hundreds as was the case at the time of these films.

Bava thankfully gets to pop up on Demons 2's own set of bonus features, a lengthy chat (also in Italian) where he notes some of the story issues and also that most of the script for The Church (which began life as Demons 3) is his, even if his name was removed from the credits. This is backed up by his son Roy (aka Fabrizio) Bava, who offers his own look back at the work he did with his father over the years, even alluding to being jealous of his relationship with Soavi at one point. Stivaletti also gets to discuss his work on the two films, and finally composer Simon Boswell talks about HIS unintentional career as a composer (he basically fell into it and never really left), which kicked off with Demons 2. It's curious that none of the actors from either film are on hand; I've seen a couple of them at conventions and screenings, so it's not like they're not willing to discuss them (or hard to find), but based on what I can tell from the listing on the 4K UHD version, they don't show up on there either. Also, not surprising, but worth noting - the original commentary for Demons that was on the Anchor Bay DVD remains MIA, as it has for a while now. I was hoping to hear it again because the moderator asks Bava what is happening when the helicopter crashes through the roof, prompting Bava to say "I don't know" - so good. Alas, as with a lot of AB bonus features, it seems to be unavailable for other labels to include, which is a shame.

These remasters are only available together, which might be frustrating for fans who only want the original and have to pay extra for the unwanted sequel, but for those who enjoy both, I really can't see them ever being improved (beyond somehow acquiring those legacy features). Yes, it's a shame that only the 4HD set includes all of the bonus features (on the UHD disc itself; there's none of that obnoxious "movie only and the supplements are on a separate blu-ray" here), but even the stripped down 1080p set has hours of extras in addition to the excellent transfers, so you can't really go wrong with either of them (my guess is that anyone who truly cares about bonus features anymore is also the kind of person who will have upgraded to 4K by now). And if you've somehow never seen the films, there's no better time than the present to enjoy a film about someone who hesitantly goes to a movie theater only for some kind of awful disease to spread throughout the crowd! Wait.

What say you?


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